Councils for God and the development of the biblical canon: Another response to Bart Ehrman

Among the dozen or so criticisms of my book The Christ Conspiracy by Bart Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? (24) appears the following, regarding the time and effort spent on the canonization of the New Testament part of the Bible. In this criticism, Ehrman quotes my book and summarizes another point, commenting in brackets:

“It took well over a thousand years to canonize the New Testament,” and “many councils” were needed to differentiate the inspired from the spurious books (31). [Actually, the first author to list our canon of the New Testament was the church father Athanasius in the year 367; the comment about “many councils” is simply made up.]

In this regard, Ehrman himself has done much to demonstrate that the NT canon changed over the decades to centuries, so that point is accepted.

The Muratorian Canon and Athanasius

The oldest extant canon appears to be the Muratorian Fragment, dated at the earliest to around 200, more than a century and a half before the time of Athanasius:

…the Muratorian fragment is evidence that, perhaps as early as 200, there existed a set of Christian writings somewhat similar to the twenty-seven-book NT canon, which included four gospels and argued against objections to them. Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings are claimed to have been accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 3rd century.

In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of the books that would become the twenty-seven-book NT canon, and he used the word “canonized” (kanonizomena) in regards to them. The first council that accepted the present canon of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393)… (“Development of the New Testament Canon“)

The claim that “the canon” was not finalized for a thousand years refers to the eventual canons of different denominations established at later councils:

… some claim that, from the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today), and that, by the 5th century, the Eastern Church, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Nonetheless, full dogmatic articulations of the canon were not made until the Canon of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox. (“Development of the New Testament Canon“)

As we can see, my contention that it took over a thousand years to develop the canon is accurate, as is my claim that such a formation required “many councils.”

The many councils

Despite Ehrman’s calumny (once again) that I “made things up,” the fact remains that there were many councils at which Christian doctrine was hashed out. In The Christ Conspiracy (31), I provided relevant quotes describing how these meetings were conducted, sometimes rather violently and brutally. These gatherings included the well-known First Council of Nicaea (325), as well as the Council of Constantinople (381), First Council of Ephesus (431), Council of Chalcedon (451), Second Council of Constantinople (553), Third Council of Constantinople (680-1), the Quinisext Council (692) and the Second Council of Nicaea (787), this latter serving as the “seventh of the first seven ecumenical councils.” The penultimate council listed here, although not well known, included discussion of the biblical canon, as did earlier councils.

In his thorough analysis of these councils, Voting about God in Early Church Councils (2), Yale University historian Dr. Ramsay MacMullen provides long lists and a map, remarking:

From the two and a quarter centuries post-325, surviving evidence allows the location of 255 councils on the map and in time… Two or three might better be called conferences; and, besides, the great majority of the rest were not focused on theology; rather, on internal government: as, what were the rights of deacons against presbyters? or what office should determine the rites of baptism? Yet their procedures and participation were no different than in those assemblages focused on credal questions. To understand one sort is to understand all.

Again, there were many councils held to discuss Church doctrine and organization, a number of which focused on credal questions, i.e., theological issues. Added to this list is the Council of Trent (1546), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) and the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) at which the Catholic and Protestant canons were finalized. To reiterate:

The Christian Biblical canon is the set of books Christians regard as divinely inspired and constituting the Christian Bible. Books included in the Christian Biblical canons of both the Old and New Testament were decided at the Council of Trent (1546), by the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), and the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) for the Catholic Church, the Church of England, Calvinism and the Orthodox Church respectively. (“Development of the Christian biblical canon“)

The bottom line is that, rather than having been set in stone by the infallible finger of God from the beginning, the biblical canon has been changed by men over a period greater than a millennium, and, indeed, to this day remains different in the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. These facts provide evidence that the Bible has a very human origin and does not represent “God’s Inerrant Word” filled with “accurate history” written down by “infallibly inspired” scribes.

Further Reading

Does early Church father Justin Martyr quote the gospels?
Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?
The Jesus Forgery: Josephus Untangled
The Son-Sun pun strawman
Bart Ehrman: ‘Mythicist’s arguments are fairly plausible’
The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican
Did Jesus Exist? forum thread
The Late Dating of the Gospels


  1. I used to be intimidated by bible “scholars” with Ph.D’s but, after studying the subject for a few decades and reading their books and noticing so many errors they really don’t impress me much anymore. How could Errorman screw so many things up so badly in his newest book ‘Did Jesus Exist?’

    I have Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book DJE and I have several of Acharya’s books and pretty much everything he claims she is wrong about he screwed up. Probably due to the obvious fact that he did not actually read Acharya’s book. But, what gets me pissed is that Ehrman has the temerity to accuse her of “making stuff up” and worse all while HE is the one who is misrepresenting pretty much every mythicist in his book and accusing them of “making stuff up” or “incompetence.” Ehrman has proven himself biased, sloppy and flat out dishonest.

    I have little respect for New Testament scholars anymore after I figured out that they are not required to study the case for mythicism or mythology or pre-Christian Paganism in order to receive their Ph.D. That means they are not experts on the subject of mythicism AT ALL, which is what Acharya’s books are mostly about. NT scholars have their noses so narrowly focused on the NT that they are incapable of making credible connections elsewhere, such as pre-Christian Pagan religion and mythology.

    Ehrman could actually learn much from reading ALL of Acharya’s books. He could’ve saved all the money he wasted studying the new Testament to get his Ph.D. Ehrman has ruined his own reliability and credibility with his book DJE. I will never be able to trust him again. He is truly guilty of everything he accused the mythicists in his book.

    Religion and the PhD: A Brief History ([url][/url])

    The Mythicist Position forum thread ([url][/url])

    The Mythicist Position video ([url][/url])

  2. I appreciate the information brought out by these
    Every time I log onto this site I learn something new. I am a bit surprised that the 27-book structure of the New Testament canon might have been established as early as 367 (or even more surprisingly, year 200). However, when I think about it, the decision to discard the outlier manuscripts would not be expected to drag on much more than two centuries. As for the debate which is the topic of this thread, I do not think much should be made of it by either side. I do not care for Bart Ehrman’s two-word jabs (I can think of an example besides his charge that Acharya “made up” the comment in question). Questions of tact aside, Bart Ehrman’s rebuttals do serve to create a flow of information by prompting Acharya to offer her surrebuttals.

  3. Erhman is now a creep
    This is ridiculous. This is like trying to prove that Paul Bunyon was a real guy. There may very well have been a lumberjack in the northwoods named Paul Bunyon, but he was Not 52 ax-handles high with his feet on the ground and his head in the sky. This is simply a non-pleasant distraction to the work that really needs to get done. It really sucks that you have to keep addressing the nonsense from this creep.

  4. Cheap Errorman Avoids Expensive Sabbatical
    Why would Ehrman make so many innacurate claims and insulting comments about Acharya in his book? Why? What could be the reason/s? Could Ehrman, the Ph.D., be so lacking in the type of knowledge that is needed to write a thorough analysis of the historicity of Jesus Christ that he simply can’t avoid making errors? In other words, his knowledge of things related to the historicity of Jesus – the history of Egypt, the religions of other pre-Christian countries, mythology – is so lacking that it’s impossible for him to write an accurate book on the historicity of Jesus Christ.

    If so, then what are the ways in which Ehrman could solve his problem of lack of knowledge?

    1. Ehrman could retreat from writing, teaching, and whatever else he’s doing; and he could go on a (five) or (ten) year sabbatical leave to study the the subjects that Acharya has already mastered. Then he could return and (maybe) write a book (without) mistakes. Ehrman knows that a sabbatical leave would be the most thorough way to accumulate the knowledge that he needs. However, he also knows that he isn’t twenty-five or thirty-five years old with time to splurge on sabbatical leaves. So WHAT could be another way for him to accumulate the knowledge that he needs to write an accurate book on the historicity of Jesus Christ? (See # 2)

    2. Ehrman could call up Acharya/Murdock and other authors – whose scholarship on the historicity of Jesus Christ is much more accurate than his – and politely ask them to provide him with an extensive crash course covering all the subjects that he’s lacking in. Instead of blowing ten years and lots of money on a complicated sabbatical leave, he could recieve the same amount of information from those authors at about half the price and he could recieve it in two years instead of ten. But Ehrman won’t do it this way because if he does, he will subordinate himself to (them). Instead, Ehman wants to subordinate them.


    3. Ehrman does what he has done in his book, “Does Jesus Exist?” He writes errors in his book (purposely) and he purposely (insults) Acharya in his book knowing full well that his staged errors will instigate Acharya to correct them, and his (undeserving) insults will denigrate Acharya and put her into a defensive mode. After he angers and insults Acharya and puts her into a defensive mode, he knows that Acharya will return to her blogs and provide him (Ehrman) with a (free) education with the answers to the questions that Ehrman didn’t want to acquire by way of a (ten year) (expensive) sabbatical leave. If this is Ehrman’s motive, then he’s a cheap creep.

  5. Yes, this strange behavior of ours in actually looking at pre-Christian religion for precedents for the Christian religion is completely irrational and unscientific! Even though nonbelievers such as Ehrman himself will surely admit that Christianity contains motifs and ideas from pre-Christian Pagan religion.

    But we must not look closely at that pre-Christian religion that Christianity has “borrowed” from! If we do, we might find out that it has something to do with nature-worship, including reverence for the celestial bodies. And we must not name that heavenly nature-worship as anything like “astrolatry ([url][/url]),” “astral mythology ([url][/url]),” “astromythology” or “astrotheology!”

    If you want to get a full picture of the religions of humanity dating back thousands of years, you will not find it in the works of Ehrman or any other NT scholar. And if you want a fuller picture of Christian origins, you will likewise not be able to turn to these individuals so ignorant of pre-Christian religion other than Judaism.

    If Mithra, Apollo, Horus, Osiris and others from whom attributes of Jesus have been drawn are largely SOLAR in nature, than so too are Jesus’s attributes. It’s not difficult to comprehend.

    The coming messiah is styled in Malachi (4:3) as the “SUN of righteousness”:

    [quote]ἥλιος δικαιοσύνης καὶ ἴασις [/quote]
    Note the word for “healing” here is ἴασις or [i]Iasis[/i]. We also discover, of course that an alternate spelling of [i]iasis[/i] is [i]iesis[/i] or ἴησις, not terribly different from Ἰησοῦς. (One spelling is Attic and the other Ionic, if I recall correctly.)

    There was much speculation in antiquity that the term “Jesus” comes from the same verb as “to heal” whence comes [i]iasis[/i], which means that even here we have a messianic [b]blueprint [/b]scripture from the Old Testament that was used to create the New: A figure associated with “Iasis” who will be the “sun of righteousness.” Could it be more obvious that “Jesus Christ” is a mythical and midrashic composite of characters?

    Jesus was subsequently called many times by the moniker “sun of righteousness” and others such as “Our Sun,” and he is portrayed in art with numerous solar symbols. His “father” Yahweh is significantly depicted as a SUN GOD ([url][/url]), and Jesus is made to say, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30 ([url][/url]))

    Sticking one’s head in the sand will not make this (fascinating) information go away.

  6. Red Herring
    This cheap shot from Ehrman about the canon is a red herring, a distraction from his real agenda. His real complaint about Acharya is that she shows astrotheology provides a compelling explanation for Christian origins. But Ehrman won’t take that on directly. Instead he looks for every small example that he can twist and distort.

    In this canon example, what Acharya wrote was perfectly reasonable. There is still dispute among the fundies about the canon. But rather than engage in a serious debate about astrotheology, Ehrman engages in a futile troll campaign of smear. He is a disgrace.

  7. Greetings,

    Considering the multi-dimensional nature of words, symbols and the universe at large and even sometimes sentient beings, to maintain this false dichotomy of either Jesus exists or Jesus does not exist completely ignores what the contents actually mean.

    It may be likened to a professional mechanic who knows how to rebuild gasoline engines, however never seen or driven a car.



  8. “It is absolutely true, in my judgment, that the New Testament accounts of Jesus are filled with discrepancies and contradictions in matters both large and small.”

    – Bart Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?” page 182

    “It is true that the Gospels are riddled with other kinds of historical problems and that they relate events that almost certainly did not happen…”

    – Bart Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?” page 184

Comments are closed.

© 2015 Freethought Nation, Acharya S, D.M. Murdock & Stellar House Publishing